By Suma Varughese April 2012 At a time when the marriage institution is cracking up, four couples share the secret of their happy marriages, says Suma Varughese Ankur and Aarti Gupta: Committed to loving , giving and growing It’s no secret. The institution of marriage is in trouble. All over the world and yes, in India too. Can it be otherwise at a time when society is in a vortex? The old structures on which marriage stood are rending apart – defined roles for each gender, compliant women who bore the burden of adjusting and adapting irrespective of abuse and loss of dignity, limited choices and opportunities to meet the opposite sex or to explore life, powerful religious credos and sexual taboos.Today, life has never been more of a party. Women are discovering their freedom and economic power for the first time. Both sexes are tasting the heady pleasures of the sensory life. Choices on lifestyles and careers abound. Mobiles, facebook, the workplace and the gym offer many opportunities for the sexes to mingle. The result? Extra-marital relationships, wide ranging conflict and divorces. The shadow of pain is abroad in marriage land and it is no longer possible to look away. Says Samadarshini, faculty at the Chennai-based spiritual organisation, One World Academy, “Right now there is a struggle within marriages. Both partners are feeling controlled by the other and are getting stifled. There is a greater need for freedom. That is one problem. Another problem is of hurt. Both partners are hurting. And they do not know how to deal with the hurt. Thirdly, very often the reason why people enter marriage is faulty. It could be because of power, duty, money, pleasure or status. It is okay to start the relationship on this basis but unless it evolves to accommodate friendship, gratitude, a shared vision, love and compassion for the other, it will not last.”But what may appear to be a disaster can also be a great opportunity. If there is no extrinsic reason to keep a marriage going, can we discover intrinsic reasons to do so? Let’s face it. We need the institution of marriage. There is no other substitute for raising children and setting up the foundation unit of the family, which after all, is what civilisation is based on. Perhaps as the planet evolves and consciousness levels peak, we will emerge with alternative ideas such as communes. But for the moment, let’s make marriage work. Updating marriage However, corrective measures are urgently called for. The fact of the matter is that humanity has evolved and marriages have not. Women are working both at work and at home and yet it is the rare husband who takes equal responsibility for raising the kids, cooking meals, and running homes. Women bring in money into the family almost as much as their mates do, and yet the concept of dowry continues to plague Indian parents looking to marry off their daughters. Men may want to stay home and take care of the family for a spell or follow their artistic pursuits, but find themselves forced into their business suits and corporate persona by wives who prefer to see them as money-making machines. Marriages need to also have an inbuilt flexibility to embrace the essential nature of the partners involved and not impose outdated rules and regulations on them. Girls today are leading emancipated lives but post marriage still have to comply with the familial need for propriety and wear saris or churidar kurtas instead of the jeans or skirts that define them better. They are often forced to take on an identity that does not belong to them, such as doing puja everyday or going to church every Sunday despite a lack of religious convictions. Men must be allowed to stay home and take care of their family if they choose to do so. Vanita and Neil with their son Mark: cocooned in love A friend carries an air of repressed ferocity within her. Raised as a son by her doting mother and feted for her many achievements, she was shell-shocked when that same mother married her off as soon as she came upon a good match. From being the man of the house, she was forced into being a bride and a mother. “All my life I have only fitted myself into various roles. In all this, where am I?” she cries.Perhaps couples entering marriage need to create a vision and mission statement for themselves. Most of us would find it hard to define why we are getting married. We drift into it like cattle in a pen, because it is the done thing – the next step following education and a job. Nor do we have a clue what we want out of it. Happily ever after is a hazy concept and we have no idea how to get there. No road map, no plan, perhaps not even an intention. Only making the choice of marriage a conscious one will enable us to inject the necessary commitment into it. For there is no doubt that without commitment a marriage will flounder, especially in these volatile times. It is commitment that can keep a couple together even when rent apart by discord or when love, trust and other factors have dwindled. A committed couple can go through any amount of turbulence without being tossed apart. A three-legged race Marriages often appear to have the inbuilt clumsiness of a three-legged race – two people of different genders, backgrounds, upbringing and perhaps even cultures, yoked together to canter through life. How can such a bondage accommodate each other’s essential being? The changes that they experience as they go through life? Emerging aspirations and interests? How can the knot be loose enough to ensure freedom and yet strong enough to ensure commitment? How can it accommodate the new man and woman whose sacred duty is to realise their highest potential?To explore these ideas we interviewed not just therapists and seers but also people who live the solutions: couples who can confidently claim that their marriage is a success. For surely a happy marriage is a great blessing? I am not married, nor do I intend to, but as one committed to intimacy in relationships, I am enthused by the possibility of a partnership that grows ever closer and more attuned with the passage of years. A relationship that is formed out of a beautiful tapestry of loving, giving, sharing and supporting.Dr Pinakin and Dr Rekha Shah are Mumbai-based surgeons who have been happily married for the last 30 years. Says Rekha ebulliently, “We are enjoying our marriage very much. With each year, the fellowship is more joyful. I can say anything to my husband and he will still love me. Acceptance has come. I don’t have to impress him. There is no fear.” Dr Pinakin Shah adds, “We asked each other the question once if there was anyone we would have been happier with. We have still not found anyone.”Mumbai-based Ankur and Aarti Gupta, who have been married for 34 years also share the rare blessing of a wonderful and harmonious union. Ankur, a computer whiz who runs his own business, says, “The bottom line is love. Between us we vie for how to give more to the other.” Aarti, an intuitive counselor and therapist adds, “No matter what, I know that he loves me more than anyone else, he will do what I say and he will always be there for me. There are no insecurities at all.”Younger couples too echo the same commitment and devotion. Vanita and Neil Mascerenhas are a 30-something couple working in Mumbai as graphic designers. Says Vanita, “At one point our relationship slackened and we started taking each other for granted. Both of us felt that something was going away and that if we did not catch it, it would go out of our hands. We sat down and decided to put more into our marriage. I began to acknowledge everything he did for me and so did he. Our relationship absolutely blossomed. I want to spend the next 50 years with the same guy!” Adds Neil, “The minute I saw her, I knew that I wanted to live my life with her.”Aruna and Santosh Joshi are a Mumbai-based couple in their 40s. Santosh is a past-life therapist while Aruna is an interior designer. Their marriage had its fair share of turbulence but today the couple has emerged with a strongly supportive bond. Says Santosh, “When I am with her, I can be myself; and she can be herself. Not a single thought is hidden. There is no need to pretend at all.” Aruna agrees, “There is an open space to communicate.” A happy marriage is possible. Despite the times, despite the temptations, despite the odds. Perhaps that is the mantra that any couple needs to chant as it enters the deep and difficult task of bringing together two bodies, two minds, and two hearts and soldering them into oneness. And when they manage to accomplish this humongous task, they will have given the world a precious gift because their example will kindle hope, courage and aspiration in the hearts of all those they touch.Bending gender roles Naushir Engineer, a Pune-based spiritual teacher who also holds workshops on relationships says, “It is important to understand the other’s gender. The critical difficulty lies in the fact that one gender does not think like the other. Generally speaking women are emotion-centric and men are libido-centric. Unless they are educated about each other’s patterns, they stumble through marriage. Today marriage is successful by default, not design.” Our model couples resonate with this thought.Says Ankur Gupta, “I have developed my feminine side and Aarti her masculine side, and that has added flexibility to the relationship. At age 18, I could cook a complete meal. I was good at stitching and knitting, because my mother ran a knitting unit and I was forced to chip in. She often used to go out of town and leave me to take care of my dad for 15 days at a stretch.” The desire to make each other happy is the cornerstone of the strongmar
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